New York nightlife historical past

No, things weren’t any better then, I remember when I get nostalgic about the glory days of New York. The crucial moment in a charged city whose essence is change is always and axiomatic now. “I despise it when people say things used to be so great,” says Kim Hastreiter, who, as the founder of Paper Magazine, has had a front-row seat in New York’s cultural arena for more than three decades. “It’s getting better now. It’s best now. “

The theme is club life. If it has seemed to some in recent years that clubbing in Manhattan has died (an almost inevitable conclusion even before the pandemic), they simply haven’t looked in the right places. Yes, gone are the warehouses, the shop fronts, the pubs, the desecrated churches, the Harlem lofts, the buildings of the Garment District, where so much of what was central to pop culture – disco, hip-hop, House music, fashion, DJ culture, breakdance, drag – it was all incubated. Yes, they have been replaced with hermetic glass centers surrounded by multi-million dollar condominiums.

But the rough and chaotic nightlife that was cultivated on Manhattan’s shabby fringes between the 1970s and mid-1990s has simply migrated to the boroughs for the past decade: to stealth parties and roving techno-cult raves in old hotels, one Office building in East Williamsburg, a cave bar in Queens, a loft where DJs played 12-hour sets in desolate industrial Brooklyn until sunrise.

Lady Circus will perform at the Lovers Ball at the House of Yes on February 13, 2016.

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In the renegade spirit of these parties, you can trace a line back to all of the other parties that made New York the global nightlife capital for decades, from speakeasies from the Depression era to the Stork Club and the mosh pit parties of the 80s, the Susanne Bartsch was organized by the organizers. Sure, there were cacophonic and largely irreplaceable scenes elsewhere – in Berlin, London, Paris. None, however, promoted cultural production on the New York plain. No one was so democratic or so hybridized and mixed up.

A performance on stage at Studio 54, 1977.

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“Steve Rubell [the founder of Studio 54] called it the mixed salad of cultures, ”says Eric Goode, founder of Area, the famous 80s club in Tribeca, known for its changing tableaux vivants, the staged diorama fashion, the starry clientele and the cocaine-dusted antics is known in its mixed bathrooms. “That was something that brought New York to night life: that mix of every gender, gay, straight, young, old, black, white, Latin, whatever,” says Goode, now the filmmaker who works for the Tiger King Juggernaut responsible for.

For those of us who were alive at the time and just got the names of places like the tenth floor, the Paradise Garage, the Boy Bar, the Better Days, the area, the Pyramid Club, the building, Palladium, the Milky Way, The Spotlight, Twilo, and Tilt said Tunnel and Mars are meant to evoke a series of almost biblical testimonies.

Liza Minnelli and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Studio 54.

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These clubs produced talent as diverse and influential as Madonna, Moby, Deee-Lite, RuPaul, Stretch Arm Strong, and DJ Frankie Knuckles, to name a few of the most influential. Long before receiving awards for his collaborations with Amy Winehouse, Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars, Mark Ronson was a young DJ at NYU. He had his first break with pop-up nightclubs in Manhattan like Giant Step and Soul Kitchen for what he would later call “the finest selection of models, rap stars, ballers, art kids, skaters and drug dealers” on the planet.

Grace Jones celebrates in Studio 54.

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“You could reinvent yourself as what you wanted to be,” says Joey Arias, a performance artist who is perhaps best known for his Billie Holiday imitation and eight years of dominance host of Zumanity, Cirque de Soleil’s show in Las Vegas is known. “That was the secret of it. This diversity is the living symbiotic battery that feeds New York. ”

When this diversity finally dwindled, as foreign investors and the banking class overtook the indefinite artistic, club life in Manhattan lost some of its vigor. “Money, real money, was introduced in the late 1980s and that changed everything,” says Serge Becker, co-founder of Area and the Bowery Bar. “You saw it in the art world where art is suddenly an asset class and a guy says, ‘I know how to secure them.’ “He adds, with no apparent regret, that on the sets, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, the themes created for an area theme night had served their purpose. Work that would later have been worth millions was discarded without further ado.

The internet can also be blamed for the dawn of a certain glitzy nightlife. Privileged word of mouth seems to be as dated a concept as the club’s door guards who once waved away unwanted people. Nobody – in the age of Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok – needs a hint. But social media isn’t a death knell either. Just ask the Gen Z rebels who, prior to the pandemic, held weekly guerrilla parties in secret locations announced in Flash posts on Instagram. “A kid I know,” says Hastreiter, “goes with a van and a sound system to an empty, shitty property in the middle of nowhere and dances with his friends all night. For me that’s much more interesting than stories about old club life. It’s always like this in New York: What the children are doing is what matters most. ”

And that’s still the important business of reinventing culture.

This story will appear in the December / January 2021 issue of City Country.


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